Review: Legally Blonde


DULOG (Durham University Light Opera Group) theatre company plays out another fantastic season of musicals with the Broadway belter, Legally Blonde, directed by Hannah Kisiala, and produced by Hannah Sheppard, opening in the Assembly Rooms Theatre on 19th June. The show is a must-see medley of Durham’s top musical theatre troupe, which skillfully utilises the constraints of the Assembly Rooms, with fabulous choreography and spectacular set design. Do yourself a favour — get yourself a ticket before they sell out.

Every single member of the cast is fantastic, and brings a level of energy and depth to their characters far exceeding all expectations

To those unfamiliar, the musical follows a plot similar to the 2001 movie of the same name. Elle Woods, a sorority queen, fabulously played by Lucie Fletcher, enrols at Harvard Law School in an attempt to win back her ambitious boyfriend ( as Warner Huntington III). Although the plot is comic, the message is far more sober: it seeks to subvert the ‘blonde stereotype’, and deals with themes as dark as sexual harassment.

Every single member of the cast is fantastic, and brings a level of energy and depth to their characters far exceeding all expectations. Durham’s answer to Reese Witherspoon, is an amazing actress, delivering her lines and her songs with confident eloquence. Despite not being blonde (proving once and for all that hair colour is merely a detail), she infuses the stage with such energy and passion, establishing the idealism of Elle Woods earlier on, paving the way for an emotionally complex, and realistic slant on her role than the Broadway original, especially in her darker scenes. The Delta Nu girls (Beth Dench, and Charlotte Dixon) seemed to have boundless energy, whisking the listener away with a stunning vocal performance, especially with the opening number.

The audience loved the male ensemble, who managed to relieve, not distract from main scenes, casting them off in fits of laughter — the rap section of “What You Want” got multiple laughs, as well as their genuine enjoyment on the stage. as Kyle the UPS man was hilarious, exuding a comic confidence which prompted fits of laughter.

played a fantastic Emmet Forrest, and dealt with a more shyer character with deftness, who otherwise would have the potential to be drowned out by the brashness of the rest of the show. His vocal performance was on-point, but his ability to act, the ease with which he conducted a role with plentiful lines, and his grounded persona was a joy to watch for me.

The five-member strong set design and construction team did brilliantly

My favourite character of the show is Professor Callahan, and played him incredibly. The way he exerted himself on stage eluded the tyranny of his character, exemplified by his rendition of “Blood in the Water”. I also commend him and Fletcher for their ability to switch tack, where the plot swings away from comedy to deeper examinations of misogyny, and workplace sexual harassment — a tricky scene, handled delicately and pulled-off flawlessly.

Another highlight was as the slightly crazed beautician Paulette Buonufonte. She pulled off her numbers seemingly effortlessly, and had to a tee the delicate craft of the overexaggerated comedic emotion that is needed, like when she yells “CELTIC MOODS!” in “Ireland”.

Act Two’s opening number, “Whipped into Shape”, performed by as the steely Brooke Wyndham, was incredibly well pulled off, requiring choreographed skipping whilst leading a vocally complex song. Few people would have the lungs and breath control to manage that; Gibson did not appear at all uncomfortable. Misha Joshi as Vivienne Kensington shone in the second act, where she reaches out to Elle in “Legally Blonde”. However, I did get the feeling that she was uncomfortable with the meanness of her character in the first act.

In terms of staging, the stage apron was disassembled to make way for a full pit band, which played the high energy, high tempo songs with energy and gusto, although there were a few issues with the brass section on the performance I saw. What was left of the stage was quite small for a musical of this size, but it was utilised to maximum extent, the Director, Kisiala’s, choice with an elevated section of the stage used to create a sense of separation from the main stage, paving way for a Romeo and Juliet moment in Elle and Emmet’s love scene. And, in particular, the Harvard Admissions Office scene created a contrast with the corduroy-clad professors and the yo-yoing energy of “What You Want”. The choreography ( and Clementina Vong) was the best I have seen on a Durham stage, with dazzlingly complex lifts and dances contrasting with the stillness as Elle gently tells us “How about love?”.

My concerns about the sets were put to bed immediately. The five-member strong set design and construction team did brilliantly, with a multi-level window set for the opening number “Omigod You Guys”, which is needed to cement the energy and excitement of the opening song. The list of sets is demanding, and requires quick changes. Elle’s bedroom was a particular highlight, in the quality of how well it was dressed.

My worries about the show going in were logistics. The show is demanding, requiring numerous quick costume changes — including one on stage by Emmet. For a first night these were pulled off flawlessly. Although I was not expecting Bruiser to be a real Chihuahua, I was nonetheless interested to see what they would do. The creative choice to seize on it as a comic moment — to tape a dog to a remote control car was hilarious — and the sound cues were on point for the barking sound effects.

You can catch DULOG’s Legally Blonde in the Assembly Rooms Theatre from the 19th-22nd June. The show starts at 7.30pm, and there is a matinee on Saturday at 2.30pm. Based on the Novel by Amanda Brown and the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture, this amateur production is presented by arrangement with Music Theatre International. All authorised performance materials are also supplied by MTI Tickets can be purchased here.

Image: via DULOG

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